AirTalk for May 23, 2011

Supreme Court decision on CA prison overcrowding

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California Department of Corrections officer looks on as inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard December 10, 2010 in Chino, California.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to cut its prison population by approximately 32,000 inmates. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the reduction is “required by the Constitution” to correct longstanding violations of inmates’ rights. California’s 33 adult prisons currently house more than 142,000 inmates. The order mandates capping the state’s prison population at 110,000 inmates, which is still higher than the capacity the system was designed to accommodate. In two decades-old cases, federal judges have found that California’s overcrowding situation is so bad, inmates have been needlessly dying due to lack of medical care. But Justice Antonin Scalia said in dissent that the court order is “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.” Will California have to abide by this ruling? Will the state begin releasing prisoners? If so, how will officials decide who gets released? Or might Governor Brown’s recently enacted “realignment plan” to shift thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails come into play?


Don Specter, Director of the Prison Law Office

Todd Spitzer, Victims' Rights Attorney, Former Chairman of the Select Committee on Prison Construction and Operations in the California Assembly

Lee Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff

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